Revisiting Raiders

Decades later, a trio of teens look back on their home movie remake of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK.

It’s amazing to realize that it took Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Harrison Ford 19 years to conjure up a fourth Indiana Jones adventure, one they called INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL, which was released this past summer. The film first premiered at Cannes, France and it was quite well received. The film went on to gross big-time box office with $783 Million worldwide. Now, on October 14, 2008, the DVD edition is being released by Paramount Pictures on DVD and Blu-Ray discs.

But it’s also just as amazing to realize that there is another Indiana Jones production that you’ve probably never heard about. It’s the adventure story of how three kids from Mississippi, just hitting into their teens, decided to film their own adaptation of one of Hollywood’s most successful blockbusters. Their story is the one about bonding friendship and relentless determination.

When Chris Strompolos, Eric Zala and Jayson Lamb decided in the summer of 1982 to hand-craft a personalized version of Steven Spielberg’s RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, it was just the beginning of a long, fractious and arduous seven-year journey for the trio. They scraped every penny from their allowances and called in favors from classmates, adults and kids in their orbit towards filming a shot-for-shot remake of Spielberg’s $20 million homage to the movie serials of the 1930s.

“To Strive, To Seek and Not to Yield…”

In summer of 1981, Chris, Eric and Jayson (who ranged in age from 11 to 13 years old) were living and going to school in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. Ordinary kids, they became friends and discovered a shared passion for RAIDERS and Strompolos was eager to become Indiana Jones. He roped in Zala, who agreed, and then Lamb joined the team. The three assigned themselves multiple roles to play in front and behind the camera.

In addition to being the star Strompolos also handled the producer and sound mixer duties. Zala cast himself as Belloq, the arch-rival archaeologist working for the Nazis, and then constructed the storyboards and art direction. Lamb kept himself behind the camera as cinematographer, editor and special effects.

Often filming in their own bedrooms, their parents’ basements or on location, the boys soon came to understand the challenges of their filmmaking tasks. This was in the days before RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK was commercially released on videotape. No scripts were available, so the entire adaptation had to be fashioned from memory and help from references like the comic book and the novelization.

To complete all the shots they needed, the boys had to film over the course of seven consecutive summers, finishing in 1989. In the final film, it showed: The ages of the actors often fluctuated from scene to scene, depending when it was filmed.

However, RAIDERS THE ADAPTATION was so carefully crafted that anyone familiar with the actual Spielberg production could easily recognize characters, costumes, locations and sets. And yes, the boys even managed to find themselves a submarine to use in their film. Cannily, many camera angles are eeriely close to the original film’s look and feel. Even the editing’s tempo are very close to the original film.

When RAIDERS THE ADAPTATION finally finished production after six tough summers, it was 1989; editing was handled at the local television station, which lent equipment and space so that the boys could complete their work.

Shortly thereafter, a cast and crew screening was held at a local PepsiCo auditorium to an audience of about 200 people. Everyone laughed and cheered and the boys were happy. Life could now go on.

It wasn’t until years later, on December 2002, that a filmmaker named Eli Roth gave a videotape dub of the movie to Harry Knowles, webmaster of the ¨uber-film geek website Aint It Cool News. (Roth got obsessed with the film after it was passed on to him by other fans who had caught an NY University screening when Eric was a film student there.)

As an unannounced, and impromptu screening, the audience was at first simply stunned to see RAIDERS THE ADAPTATION. And as they absorbed the film, they responded with delight and cheers. Five months later, in May 2003, the filmmakers reunited in Austin, Texas for another screening, and the reaction was equally enthusiastic. That’s when the three boys realized their private little film project finally had broken out into the world.

“Crack the Whip”

Today, Chris Strompolos says that what kept the three of them, over seven years of hard work, going on the project was simply that they were confident and had strong support from their family and friends. “We were surrounded by a lot of naysayers, “When are you going to finish that RAIDERS thing!?’ We were inspired to prove them wrong,” he says. “The most prominent point was that the working team of Eric, Jayson and I — the working chemistry was so strong — particularly between Eric and I. We just found each other as friends and that’s been the nature of our relationship.”

It was truly a collaborative effort, says Strompolos. The many who worked behind the scenes were conscripted into the adventure when problems were needed to be solved. “It was just a volunteer effort from summer to summer,” he says. “There were people who stayed around for the whole time,” like Eric’s little brother Kurt, who snagged at least six different on-screen roles.

As an example of the tribulations endured by the boys, the actress originally cast as Marion Ravenwood filmed a few scenes but then something unexpected happened. “She had moved to Alaska without telling us!” recalls Strompolos. “We were unable to finish. We had to reshoot everything.” Another girl, Angela Rodriguez, who was spotted by Zala at the local church, agreed to take on the role. “She was a perfect match and it ended up being really great,” he sighs.

“We just wanted to do the best we could. We never had any plans or intentions to ever show it to anybody. We were just doing it for the love of it, for ourselves. It was a fun project. We never had an end goal in mind. We weren’t going to sell it or distribute it. After many years of trial and error, we had a shot that we loved or something that really worked, we just got even more excited.”

Strompolos says when the three of them reunited at the Austin, Texas screening with Harry Knowles in attendance in May 2003, they were stunned at how many people actually showed up to see the film. “Our hearts sank because we thought, ‘My god! Don’t they know that they’re going to watch something that was shot in Mom’s basement!’ We didn’t know what we had,” he chuckles.

“It Belongs in a Museum!”

Since 2003 the three boys, now in their 30s, have continued as friends and working together. “The RAIDERS movie gave us a certain momentum,” says Strompolos. He asked Zala to join him in business and the collaboration has worked out well, bringing to fruition a film production company, appropriately titled Rolling Boulder Films.

In fact, since that year, the boys have been touring with their RAIDERS adaptation at charity screenings all across the country with a few international countries like Australia, Germany and Canada. “We always do it in affiliation with a charity,” he says. “For example, in Vancouver, all proceeds went to the Canadian Cancer Society.” Strompolos estimates they’ve flown to about 40 or 50 U.S. cities. Earlier this year the film had its Los Angeles premiere screening. “We’re booked for events all the way to the end of the year and in fact we’re looking into events for 2009,” he says. “We’re trying to get overseas. We’re in discussions about Iceland, Norway and the U.K.”

Sitting in with an audience who is discovering the film for the first time is a constant revelation, says Strompolos. “Obviously, we’ve screened it so much and I don’t sit with the audience every time,” he says. However, there are special moments that happen. “When the energy in the room is just so incredible, Eric and I will say, ‘Let’s watch it!’ For us to view it with an audience is pretty incredible because when we finished the movie, I was done with it. I was burned out and moved on to other things. Screening it for audiences, and seeing the joy and inspiration it brings to them, has allowed me to revisit that chapter in my life all over again. It’s incredible to me, in a room with 500 people, watch them whoop, holler and cheer and just have an amazing time.”

During one of those screenings last year in Mississippi, in a large turnout at a theater, the boys were reunited with their Marion — Angela Rodriguez, whom they hadn’t seen in about 18 years. “Angela’s really happy,” says Strompolos. “She’s completely cool that [the film has] gotten as much attention as it has. She’s a shy sort and doesn’t like the spotlight, which is ironic. She’s a single mom. She’s doing well. I was just in Minneapolis and saw Angela again. She’s still delighted to have had a part of the whole thing.”

Armed with three copies of the film on VHS tape, a DigiBeta copy and a DV Cam copy, Strompolos reports that “We sell out theaters. We get cheers and standing ovations. People are inspired and overjoyed. It’s taken on an incredible life of its own. Someone said our story is an evergreen story. And I think there’s always going to be someone who wants to see our movie, so we can keep touring.”

As a result of their fame with the RAIDERS adaptation, the boys sold their life story to film producer Scott Rudin and Paramount Pictures, which has a completed script by Daniel Clowes. “They’re going to hit the pause button on it for a bit,” says Strompolos, who notes the film is in active development. “Because INDY IV is out in the theaters, they are going to wait until that rides out its wave, and then start putting together the film.”

Rolling Boulder’s next project is a bona-fide feature film. They snagged for themselves a Paramount development deal with their production company. The film is titled THE RIVER CHASE. “It’s sort of a ‘southern gothic action-adventure film,’ says Strompolos. “It’s a river quest. It takes place in present-day Mississippi which is our home state. The script is done. The concept artwork is done and we’re putting it together.”

Another item on their slate is a “passion project” spearheaded by Jayson Lamb, a behind-the-scenes documentary of their RAIDERS experience titled WHEN WE WERE KIDS. “He’s taken all of the footage and digitized them,” notes Strompolos.

When INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL bowed at movie theaters this summer, Strompolos, Zala and Lamb once again revisited with their favorite hero. “It was a real pleasure to see Harrison do his thing again,” notes Strompolos. “It wasn’t a perfect script. But I think the mythology of the Indiana Jones saga, the excitement of watching him again, was everything it could be. I’m so happy that the fourth movie happened in my lifetime!” he laughs.

The trio’s association with Indiana Jones got as far as receiving a personal letter from Steven Spielberg, who screened their adaptation and he expressed his admiration for their work and telling them that their work was the best homage to RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. Later, the three filmmakers were granted a personal audience with Spielberg at his office at Universal Studios.

Although RAIDERS THE ADAPTATION was filmed and cut together using primitive videotape equipment, today Strompolos and Zala tour with the film by carrying a VHS tape copy, a DigiBeta copy and a DV Camcorder copy. The three of them are resisting any notion of taking today’s advanced video editing and special effects tools and taking it through a restoration process to upgrade the quality. “There are some dangers in that and the reason we haven’t done that yet is there’s a purist’s quality of the film being edited by a child’s hands,” notes Strompolos. “Aside from the opening scroll, we haven’t touched a frame of it. That’s part of its charm. People like that it hasn’t been touched. We’ve had people come to us and say, ‘Don’t you touch a frame of this!’ I’m sure curiosity will get the better part of us at some point. We’ll clean it up, take it through a restoration and re-cut it just to see what we end up with. It’s on our list of things to do.”

Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull – San Francisco Preview


Actually, while George Lucas, Harrison Ford and Steven Spielberg and all the other stars of INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL were holding court at Cannes, in the south of France, I was watching their new film at San Francisco’s legendary Castro theater – the same theater where I’ve seen Mr. Lucas as a special guest several times. So while Mr. Lucas didn’t turn up in his home town this week, I’ve seen him often here. I’ve also been fortunate to attend the first preview screenings Lucas held for both INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM and INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE, which Lucas insisted be held in San Francisco. Continue reading “Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull – San Francisco Preview”

Steven Spielberg's "Raiders of the Crystal Skull"

one-of-the-13-crystal-skulls.jpgLegend says that a crystal skull was once stolen from a mystical lost city of gold in the Amazon jungles of Peru. It is supposedly guarded by the living dead, and it is said, that whoever returns the mystic skull to the Temple of Akator, will be given control over its powers.
Today at the Cannes film festival, the world press will get it’s first glimpse of INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL. However, advance internet reviews have already spread like wildire, causing a minor sensation with their largely negative assesments. Perhaps most importantly, The New York Times deemed the bad early reviews worthy enough for a feature story.
Continue reading “Steven Spielberg's "Raiders of the Crystal Skull"”

Cybersurfing: Looking Back on Indiana Jones

Fortune Favors the Brave: With INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULLS about to be released, The offers a look back on the franchise that nails the social-political that helped make the original RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK  a blockbuster in 1981:

The one thing nobody could have foreseen was the film’s intersection with a social and political shift. Stanley Kauffman wrote: “In this film the future is the past, spiffed up with the latest technology and the belief that the best has already been.” The key factor was the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, a movie star who was indelibly connected with the movie past and with a rugged, frontiersman style that galvanised the US out of its post-Nixon, post-Vietnam slump into a decade of optimism and prosperity. Indiana Jones, so defiantly American, with his bull-whip and his leather jacket, was like a poster boy from Reagan’s America, and Reagan’s own aura evoked that old movie magic. Instead of looking dated in 1981, Raiders of the Lost Ark was riding the crest of a new mood in America.

Unfortunately, in trying to define the original RAIDERS as a nostalgic flashback to old-fashioned Americana, the Times’ cover feature makes an unconvincing attempt to paint the film as a box office gamble. We’re supposed to find some significance in the fact that Spielberg was paid “just” $1.5-million for directing the film, as if this indicated that, after the box office disappointment of 1941 (1979) Spielberg’s career was in the toilet and only the intervention of George Lucas saved him.
Let’s get real. During the 1970s, the two filmmakers had overseen four of the biggest blockbusters of all time: Spielberg directed JAWS (1975) and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1977). Lucas wrote and directed STAR WARS (1977) and executive produced THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (1979). CE3K reveled in the kind of feel-good tone that pleased audiences, and the two STAR WARS films were clearly inspired by old-fashioned movie serials – as was RAIDERS.
All in all, I’d say this “gamble” had all the odds tilted in its favor.

Indiana Jones & the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull – Fantasy Film Review

Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981)

The story incorporates exotic locations, lost cities, and mad ambitions, pitting power-crazed villains against well-matched rivals.”The thing to keep in mind abut this film is that it is only a movie,” says Steven Spielberg. “It takes all the license of an exotic entertainment that aims to thrill and scare and strike one with a sense of wonder.”

—from advance publicity for RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981).

There is little doubt that George Lucas’s and Steven Spielberg’s first RAIDERS film in 19 years, INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL, is the most anticipated film of the summer.
So in advance of it’s nationwide opening on May 22, here with the help of the studio press notes, are a few thoughts about the fourth Indiana Jones film. Continue reading “Indiana Jones & the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull – Fantasy Film Review”

Spielberg livens up “Ghost in the Shell” with 3-D

According to Wired, Steven Spielberg plans to put a ghost into a 3-D shell. Or, more accurately, Spielberg’s Dreamworks beat out Universal and Sony in a bidding war to secure rights to make a live-action version of the 1995 film GHOST IN THE SHELL, which was based on the novel by Shirow Masamune. Predating THE MATRIX, writer-director Mamoru Oshii’s film is an intriguing piece of action-packed cyberpunk, in which an elite team of cyborg-enhanced police track down an artificial intelligence that is seeking to incarnate itself into a body. Oshii followed up with 2004’s GHOST IN THE SHELL 2: INNOCENCE – which, if anything, topped its predecessor in terms of style and substance.


The prospect of an Americanized live-action 3-D remake is intriguing, but it is difficult to imagine how it could improve upon the original. Spielberg’s more recent “serious” sci-fi films (A.I. and MINORITY REPORT) have tended to be heavy-handed and even trite. A GHOST IN THE SHELL remake would need to fire on all cylinders, supplying both the action and the intellect.

Trailer: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Here it is, the trailer for the film, due out May 22…

Harrison Ford, Shia LaBeouf, Cate Blanchett, Ray Winstone, and Karen Allen star for director Steven Spielberg. David Koepp wrote the script, from a story by George Lucas and Jeff Nathanson. The setting is South America, 1957, where Jones races through the jungles, hoping to beat Soviet agents searching for the mystical Crystal Skull.


Interview: Stan Winston on making Jurassic Park's full-size dinos live and breath

Stan Winston's live-action raptors from JURASSIC PARKIn discussing his live-action dinosaurs in JURASSIC PARK, makeup effects expert Stan Winston referred to Willis OBrien’s KING KONG as “yet to be surpassed.” But the praise ir O’Brien had an edge. Winston bore the confidence of one who expected his work to be the top dog come June. But dinosaur film fans, who have seen many a live-action dinosaur fall on its face, will need a lot of convincing. “Steven [Spielberg] wanted to do live action as much as possible,” said Winston. “He asked how much we could do. I, being a little insane, told him we could do a great deal. He asked. ‘How?’ My response was. ‘I don’t know, but since it’s something we would love to do, we’ll figure out a way.’ I think that’s pretty much what Steven wanted to hear.”
Figuring out a way required revising the script and dropping some sequences, such as when the T-Rex takes to the water. “If we don’t feel we can do exactly what’s scripted, then it’s a matter of going back and adjusting to work within certain parameters,” said Winston. The parameters are not necessarily, ‘Can you do it?’ My gut feeling is that with the magic of the film-making process we can do anything, given enough time and money. The question is, ‘How can we do it within limitations on money and time – how much we’ll spend, how much can we get done?’ To bring in a movie of this scope on the dollars they spent, we were very frugal. Nothing in excess of $50-million is cheap, but investment equates to return. What you see on the screen will in every way justify the expense of this movie.”
Winston noted he faced two major challenges on the film: the artistic challenge of making the dinosaurs look good and the practical challenge of bringing them to life. “Our job was to create the most realistic dinosaurs that anyone has ever seen,” said Winston. “We did an enormous amount of research. We maintained a legitimacy to all of the available knowledge when it came to what dinosaurs looked like and how they lived. We had to take that reality and make it as interesting, as dramatic, as beautiful, and as spectacular as you have ever seen.”
As with men, not all Raptors, for example, are created equal. “Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwarzenegger are both men,” noted Winston. “We had to make artistic judgments in the creation of our dinosaurs to make this Raptor or that Tyrannosaurus the neatest one you’ve ever seen? A lot of that is instinct, not right or wrong.”

Winston saw the task of bringing the dinosaurs to life his biggest challenge. “They had to act,” said Winston. “We couldn’t cast a gorgeous actor who couldn’t deliver a line; we had to create saurian Robert DeNiros and Jack Nicholsons. That’s stretching it, but in the broadest sense of the term, we did need to create characters that performed. I think what we accomplished is beyond anything like this that’s been done in motion-picture history. I’m hoping the audience will feel as I do.”
The biggest influence on the look of Winston’s dinosaurs was the work of artist John Gurche. “I have an enormous amount of respect for the feeling of reality, drama and character in his work,” said Winston. “That’s what we shot for: that our dinosaurs were as dramatic and beautiful as a Gurche dinosaur.”
Winston began with a series of pencil renderings by staff artist Mark “Crash” McCreery. “I’m surrounded, fortunately, in every area – from sketching to painting to sculpting – by an unsurpassed group of artists,” said Winston.
Once the sketches received approval from Spielberg, fifth-scale miniatures were built, then full-scale sculptures.
“We attacked our sculptures in a much more technically engineered way,” said Winston. “Instead of just sculpting free-hand, we took our fifth-scale sculptures and sliced them into pies, so to speak, so we had a sculpture put together like the hull of an airplane; then we blew those slices up five times, recreated those hull pieces, and put the armature back together, so that we had an armature that was very close to the finished structure of the character. Then it was a matter of detailing: putting on the skin and doing the final sculpting on an armature that gave us the shape.”
At the same time, Winston and his crew were deciding on a variety of methods to bring the dinosaurs to life: cable-actuation, radio-control and computer-governed hydraulics. The most innovative method was strapping the top half of the T¬Rex to an airplane flight simulator.
“That concept came from Craig Caton, one of my key mechanical coordinators,” said Winston. “It limited a certain amount of shooting ability, because for many of the shots we would only be able to shoot the T-Rex from the waist up, but it seemed like a perfect way to do the broad moves-it’s a tried-and-true method of taking a lot of weight and giving it a mutli-axis.” Winston’s crew also built an insert head, hoisted by a 13,000 lb. crane, and insert legs.

The live-action T-Rex head was placed atop an airplane flight simulator for simple movements

For the Tyrannosaur’s more complex movements, Winston developed an idea “that came to me in the middle of the night: a performance-capturing Waldo. It was always a concern how we were going to puppet this enormous guy. We did have some people with us whose background was amusement park-size creatures like King Kong. The conventional method was, on a slide-pot board, to log in the actions of the hydraulic character, motion by motion; then, once that action is created, the computer memorizes it, and you can play it back over and over again. But it takes a long time to program that action and we needed to be able to take direction on a set. So I came up with the idea of recreating the dinosaurs’ inner structure mechanically – which we had already done in mock-up-so that we knew how everything would move. For every joint or axis of motion, we placed a linear potentiometer – which is a slide-pot, so to speak, that looks like a little piston. If we could get those little pistons to match the movements of the hydraulics, then instead of putting them on a control board, we could put them in place of where the hydraulics would be in the full-size character. This gave us a small version of the insides of the big version, so that any movement we gave to the small T-Rex as a puppet – holding onto it as a puppeteer and mov¬ing the head – would go right into the dinosaur, and he would do what we wanted, in real time. It worked beautifully.”
The film’s Triceratops and Bilophosaurs (a poison-spitting species) were filmed totally live using Winston’s creations. For the Brachiosaur, Winston’s team built only the head and neck. For the Raptors, Winston’s crew employed a variety of rod puppets, cable and radio-control versions, as well as the conventional man-in-a-suit approach. Fuller shots of the T¬Rex, Brachiosaur and Raptors were augmented with ILM’s CGI work.
Winston said matching his dinosaurs to the computer-generated versions of ILM was not one of his concerns. “It didn’t influence the design at all,” he stated. “They took exactly what we designed here and duplicated it. Phil Tippett was a major influence. I think that a great deal of any continuity that we have between live-action and computer-generated is greatly due to Phil and his helping us create as realistic dinosaur motions as we could. Phil’s a dinosaur himself.”
The live-action Triceratops was the only dino to go to HawaiiThe only dinosaur to visit the Hawaii location was the Triceratops, for a scene where the creature is found lying ill That left the majority of dinosaur effects to be filmed am stage, under the supervision of Michael Lantieri.
“Michael worked very closely with us,” said Winston. “We had certain requirements from a floor effects standpoint, a crane, for instance, to operate characters externally. We knew what was needed from his team and how any physical apparatus, interior or exterior, would marry. It was a perfectly coordinated marriage of teams.
“I would say that about the whole movie,” Winston continued. “It was the most perfectly coordinated movie I’ve ever worked on, from set design art direction, floor effects to creature effects. Every aspect of this film was a team effort, helmed by a director I had an enormous amount of respect for, even though I had never worked with him. Now, having worked with him, I know that it is no accident that Steven Spielberg is Steven Spielberg. He’s an incredible director, and he has an amazing feel for film. This could have been the worst working experience of my life, because it was the biggest. It turned out to be the opposite. It was a joy to go to work every day. It was the best working experience I’ve ever had, with the exception of directing my own movies.”

Copyright 1993 by Steve Biodrowski. This article orignally appeared in Cinefantastique Volume 24 Number 2 August 1993.